The fifth annual state department of transportation social media survey results were released last month at the annual meeting of TransComm, the AASHTO Subcommittee on Transportation Communications.
(Editor’s note: Full disclosure, I work at AASHTO and oversee the annual survey of state DOTs. Much of the discussion below comes from observations while reviewing raw survey data.)
The survey, started in 2009, confirms what we all probably already suspect. State DOTs are heavily invested in social media outreach both in the operations and public involvement areas. The 2014 survey confirms that not only are the state DOTs utilizing social media tools, many are doing so at a very sophisticated level.
The value of annual surveys often comes in the picture painted by incremental shifts in data. Reviewing the 2014 results shows several trends worth noting.
First, Instagram is the current “hot” tool starting to fill up many communications tool chest. States, like many non-profit and government agencies, have limited resources. Building up a new tool often takes away from other efforts. Declines can be see in how states are managing Linkedin, for instance. For many states Linkedin is not so much a social tool as a bulletin board for employee recruitment.
Social media as a public involvement tool has progressed very little, despite some real desire to see it used more in this area. There could be several possible reasons for this, but probably it has most to do with the limited rules providing for the use of social media comments in formal records and very few accepted standards of practice regarding measurement of comments and the engagement with potentially affected communities. With few exceptions, at this point in 2014 social media in public involvement remains primarily a tool for publicizing traditional public involvement activities.
Finally, this was the year that mobile communications really showed itself as a critical part of the state DOT outreach effort. Mobile has been recognized as the main driver of social engagement for several years, but this year’s survey results showed a major acknowledgement by a majority of states that their customers are mobile and moving.
Nearly 80 percent of state DOTs now offer information in mobile-friendly formats. More than half of state DOTs (55 percent) offer a standalone mobile application, primarily for traffic and traveler information. However, mobile apps also offer safety messages (15 percent), project updates and notifications (23 percent) and general DOT information (34 percent). More than 1-in-4 state DOT apps are developed by in-house staff.
One survey respondent said that audiences clearly use social tools differently based on where they are and the type of device from which they are accessing the information. For instance, one state DOT reported that their mobile app drives traffic to their agency’s web site. Another said, “Facebook is used by people more stationary while Twitter is used by people on-the-go.”
Those on-the-go customers are demanding more mobile information, according to several state DOTs.
“Web traffic has gone down for Traveler Info, we suspect, due to app launch,” said one respondent, who added that “Blog traffic has almost died after launch of Facebook and Twitter.”
The report identifies five major challenges facing state DOT communications teams and their further incorporation of social media tools into their traditional outreach programs, including:
- Internal information flows and message approvals
- Staffing—resources, training
- Bias against social media that limits employee access, and limits its effectiveness as an internal communication tool
- Keeping up with the public expectations
A full copy of the 2014 report, as well as copies of previous reports, is available at the TransComm web site.